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Explain Hume's Claim: 'reason Is The Slave Of The Passions'. Is Hume Right About This? Does Hume's View About Reason And Passion Imply That Every Action Is Ultimately Performed For Selfish Reasons?

2000 words - 8 pages

Unlike many of his predecessors, David Hume held that moral distinctions are not made by reason but instead are controlled by one’s passions, claiming that “reason is the slave of the passions”. In this essay, I will first assess Hume’s view of moral psychology by explaining this statement and comparing the theory to those that preceded his, then go on to show that he is correct in his understanding and finally explain how his view implies that every action is ultimately performed for selfish reasons, providing examples.Before we may begin to analyse Hume’s view, we must first create a reference point by understanding the previous view held by classical philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, presented through texts such as Plato’s This Republic. In this, Plato claimed that one must act accordingly to either reason or passion, where reason was a stable, logical force whereas the passions were said to be inconstant, involuntary, blind and bestial. The best moral agent presented by Plato is one who acts only according to reasons and never allows his passions to overcome reason.Here in Plato’s model, reason cannot act as its own motivation in order to perform an action. It exists only as device with which one my employ to come to a decision, but on solely in its own presence. For example, reason is unable to tell you to ‘go to the library’. However, it may be used to say ‘the best way to achieve your goal of obtaining a book would be going to the library’; hence, making this is a good decision.’ Reason allows one to achieve their incentive but not to set this incentive, and for this reason, one needs passions to motivate actions.Hume presents that all reason can be either demonstrative or probable, where demonstrative reason is reason which discovers relationships between concepts, existing independently of experience. This is the kind of reason used when solving mathematical equations and similar rational problems, gives facts only based on the existence of other, corresponding facts.Probable Reasoning is reasoning based on experiences which find causal relationships between ideas. In decisions, it is able to find the best means to a desired end, but cannot in itself motivate this means in the absence of a desired end. From this, we can see that reason can in no way challenge the will of the passions, nor develop motivations of its own. We can hence see that reason must serve only as a slave of the passions, as it hasn’t the ability to occupy any other office but to serve the passions.Reason, Hume maintains, can at most inform us of the tendencies of actions. It can recommend means for attaining a given end, but it can't recommend ultimate ends. Reason can provide no motive to action, for reason alone is insufficient to produce moral blame or approbation. We need sentiment to give a preference to the useful tendencies of actions.But this does not however mean that reason is to be...

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